Lifestyle counseling in primary care in the United States and Sweden: a comparison of patients' expectations and experiences

Glob Health Action. 2018;11(1):1438238. doi: 10.1080/16549716.2018.1438238.


Background: Despite various guidelines, shortcomings in lifestyle counseling in primary care have been demonstrated. Comparisons between countries may provide insight on how to improve such counseling. To the best of our knowledge, studies comparing patients' views of lifestyle counseling beween the United States (US) and European countries have not been reported.

Objectives: To quantify and compare patients' perspectives in the US and Sweden on primary care providers' counseling on weight, eating habits, physical activity, smoking, and alcohol consumption.

Methods: In a cross-sectional study, 629 patients from Sweden and the US completed a telephone interview about their experiences after a visit to a physician in primary care. The survey focused on patients' perception of the importance of healthy lifestyle habits, their need to change, their desire to receive support from primary care, and the support they had actually received. Data were analyzed using chi-square or Fisher's exact test.

Results: For three of the four lifestyle habits, the proportion saying they needed to change was higher in the US. The exception was for alcohol, where Swedish subjects indicated a greater need to change. Among those stating a need to change, the proportion saying that they would like to have support from primary care was generally above 80% in both countries. The proportion of US patients reporting that their primary care provider had initiated a discussion of lifestyle modification was, with the exception of alcohol, roughly double the level reported by the Swedish patients.

Conclusions: This study demonstrates high and quite similar patient expectations concerning lifestyle counseling in both countries, but more frequent initiation of discussions of most lifestyle issues in US primary care. Further studies, e.g. qualitative interviews with physicians, and medical record reviews, are required to better understand what can explain the differences between countries indicated by the study.

Keywords: Sweden; USA; alcohol drinking; counseling; health behavior; health promotion; lifestyle; prevention; primary health care; smoking.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology
  • Body Weight
  • Counseling / organization & administration*
  • Cross-Cultural Comparison*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diet
  • Europe
  • Exercise
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Life Style*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Primary Health Care / organization & administration*
  • Smoking / epidemiology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Sweden / epidemiology
  • United States / epidemiology

Grants and funding

This research was made possible by a research grant (2012-0944) from the Swedish Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare (FORTE).